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Report Cards – Canucks Forwards, Grades for “Top Six”

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Vancouver Canucks, Elias Pettersson
Vancouver Canucks forward Elias Pettersson.

I may have been accused of being an easy grader with the Vancouver Canucks D-men, but there’s a small curve based on the players’ natural abilities and expectations. The forwards offer a full-range of those abilities and performances. “Top Six” is based on some original season projections and actually includes seven players, since consistent line-up juggling has made that label somewhat moot.

The Canucks enter action Sunday night in Boston in last place in the NHL’s Pacific Division with a record of 6-13-and-2 for 14 points.

Elias Pettersson – C-minus – The mystery man of the first quarter, as in “what’s wrong with Petey?” He’s presently a half-a-point-a-game guy, which is well below expectations. The reasons have been double-checked; time off, wrist injury, missed camp … any others? He says his wrist is fine. He recently showed signs, during the recent three-game set of games at home, of finding his body again. As in, using leverage to win puck battles, using his feet more than his hands. Then he took a step back.

Pettersson is pointless in seven of his last eight games. He possesses the Vancouver Canucks highest Corsi number, at 63% (on ice, for/against shot attempt percentage), unfortunately very few of those team shots have gone in. He’s blocked nine shots this season and has drawn 14 PIMs worth of opposing penalties. Those are the positives. If it weren’t for expectations his grade would be slightly higher. Oh yeah, and he can’t win face-offs.

JT Miller – B-plus – He’s had a few weird moments where his emotion may have gotten the best of him, but for the most part that emotion is a welcome sight on a team that seems to lack fire. That said, the losing and the lack of a cohesive effort from the Canucks seems to be wearing on him; the team’s leading scorer is pointless in four of the last five games. Seven of his 19 points have come on Vancouver’s anemic power play.

Miller leads the Canucks with 52 hits and he’s won 58% of his face-offs.

Brock Boeser – C-minus – Groin problems? Confidence problems? Worried about the team dealing away responsibility for his $7-million dollar qualifying offer? Whatever’s been on his mind, it’s affecting his hockey. A couple of times he’s actually gotten in the way and broken up Canucks sustained pressure in the offensive zone, while at other times he’s just thrown pucks away or turned them over. Maybe it’s all just a mental crisis shared by the entire Canucks team.

Boeser has eight points in eighteen games, four of them goals. All four assists are secondary. He has some positive analytics, which tells you all you need to know about analytics. They don’t factor in mental make-up. In more basic stat categories, he has 97 shot attempts, 26 of them have been blocked and 26 more missed the net.

Bo Horvat – B – Has to be tired of having the say the same things. There are pal’sy-wal’sy elements of his captaining that drive me a little batty but there’s no questioning his leadership by example and his willingness to sacrifice his body. He has six goals and five assists, two of them primary. Partly because of “Petey’s” inability to perform at the dots, Horvat has taken and won more face-offs than any other player in the NHL. His win percentage is at 58% and his draw-taking is pretty much equally distributed between the three zones.

For you numerologists, he has the most unblocked, high-danger shots taken on the Vancouver Canucks, nine, and the highest “expected goals” index at 7.7.

By the way, two of his four NHL fights have come against the Boston Bruins. Just sayin’.

Nils Höglander – B-minus – “The Swedish Maniac”, that’s my fun little name for him. I’ll quote myself from earlier in the season: The reason: his boundless energy. While summer acquisition Conor Garland gets a lot of credit for being a catalyst for the Canucks, it would be fair to describe Höglander as at least that. He’s the European version of Garland, without the chirpy mouth, as far as I know.

Höglander is quick, he’s fast, he wins puck battles, and he exhibits great skill. The 20-year-old second-year player, who had 27 points in 56 games his rookie season, has tremendous upside. There are youthful mistakes. 

Höglander has five goals and four assists, which was fine and dandy until going pointless in his last five games. He’s not the most physical of creatures, nor would you expect him to be. He found a little rhythm with Horvat and Tanner Pearson but was juggled off. Still with lots to learn, but his heart is definitely in the right place. He seems to produce better on the road.

Conor Garland – B+ – Jury is out on the “Circus Monkey” moniker, probably a kibosh, but a fun description at the moment for a very exciting and intriguing player to watch. Likely at this point the Vancouver Canucks most entertaining, and who at this point couldn’t use a little entertainment. In September, I had him getting a dozen goals by Christmas. Well, the way things have been going that’s gonna be tough, but he’ll try his damnedest. Admittedly, for whatever reason, he has disappeared a wee bit in a couple of games, but given the manic nature of most of his efforts, I’m not complaining. He spins, twirls, falls down and gets up, pirouettes, and crashes.

He’s third on the team in scoring (Miller, Hughes) and second among forwards with 14 points. He’s drawn the most penalty minutes from opponents. One Flyer, I believe it was Travis Konecny, referred to him as an “angry little elf”, which is redundant by the way. Hey, ‘circus monkey’ doesn’t sound so bad after all!

Tanner Pearson – C-minus – Umm, quiet so far, is that fair? I’m not even sure what’s expected of him. His modest efforts don’t quite match his modest $3.25-million salary hit. (Two years remaining). His six points and his intricate stats are also just kind of “somewhere in the middle”. He’s like the Seinfeld episode where everything for Jerry just keeps evening out. In this case it just needs to even out at a much higher plateau. Sometimes I forget he’s here. That’s probably not good.

VHN Managing Editor Rob Simpson has been covering the NHL for three decades on live TV, radio, and as a journalist. He worked his first ever game getting postgame sound as a teenager; it was Vancouver vs. Detroit.

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